Gibbons comes to the Governor's quarters with military, private, and public-sector experience. He is a decorated Air Force veteran of both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. He served in the private sector as a mining and water rights attorney, and represented Nevada in Congress for many years before running for the state's highest office. He shared his thoughts about education and other key priorities with Area Development magazine.
On education. After authoring Question 1, the Education First Initiative, on last year's ballot, I made it clear that education was my number-one priority while serving as Governor. The Empowerment pilot program, which I introduced in my state-of-the-state address, has shown incredible results nationwide. It would give each school the opportunity to tailor an educational agenda that meets the needs of its unique student population. In Nevada, we already have four empowerment schools that champion this program. On March 7, 2007, legislation was introduced to the state legislature to begin the implementation process for nearly 100 more schools statewide.
With education being such a priority of our state, it is imperative that we understand each and every challenge facing our education program. One of the biggest challenges facing the education community is the shortage of teachers. In an effort to address Nevada's growing teacher shortage, I unveiled the Teachers' First Home Loan Program. This program gives a high priority to a significant amount of first-time homebuyer mortgage funds to help with the needs of qualified teachers.
Specifically, this pilot program targets new teachers and existing qualified teachers who specialize in science, math, and special education. The program provides down payment assistance and first mortgage money generated by tax-exempt mortgage revenue bonds. Neither the funding of the first mortgages nor the funding for down payments will require the use of taxpayer dollars. Teachers selected by the school districts may apply for this funding. Eligibility will be based on their income. Once approved, the borrowers will receive homebuyer education, down payment assistance, and below-market interest rates on the first mortgage funds to help reduce homeownership qualification obstacles.
On tax and fee policy. I have submitted nearly a $7 billion budget to the Nevada legislature that includes no new fees or taxes, and actually reduces some taxes for businesses. I am committed to having our state live within our means, cut down on government spending, and create a rich economy that can be enjoyed by all Nevadans.
On renewable energy. I signed an executive order supporting the development of renewable energy in the state of Nevada. Furthermore, this executive order will task the State Office of Energy to serve as a central informational resource for all renewable-energy-related permitting issues. Energy independence is one of the highest priorities of my administration.
On homeowner's protection. Our state's economy is strong as we continue to hold the place of the second-fastest growing state in the nation. With our population growing at an unprecedented rate, and our home prices on the rise, it was very clear that we needed to assess the current homestead protection cap and increase the allowance to include more of Nevada's homeowners. I proposed to the state legislature that we do away with the filing fee in our largest two counties to encourage Nevadans to take advantage of the homestead protection, and I am also proposing that we raise the cap from $350,000 to $550,000 to help ensure that more Nevadans are protected by this policy.